Gambling Addiction: Causes, Signs, And Treatment


The urge to play games of chance in order to win big prizes has been around since the age of antiquity. However, today we know how these sorts of behaviors can be unhealthy and lead to addiction.

How to Recognize & Treat a Gambling Addiction

When a loved one exhibits warning signs of problem gambling, it can be tough to accept the reality. Gambling that leads to issues is

considered problem gambling. Being able to recognize gambling problem indications is crucial because the symptoms of compulsive gambling aren’t often obvious – unlike someone who struggles with substance misuse, those with a gambling addiction may not appear ill.

The sooner you seek assistance for a loved one who is exhibiting the telltale signs and symptoms of gambling addiction, the better. Since addiction is a chronic illness, getting started on treatment early frequently has superior long-term effects. Discover additional signs of pathological gambling.

What Is Compulsive Gambling?

The easiest way to define compulsive gambling is having an overwhelming drive to bet despite the fact that it has caused significant harm. A person who exhibits indicators of gambling addiction keeps on gambling despite the fact that it harms their relationships, reputation, and profession. Gambling is frequently a legal activity, just like drinking. Additionally, it is simple to find online.

Addicts who gamble may experience tremendous relaxation or even euphoria; evidence suggests these experiences are a result of gambling addiction tapping into the brain’s reward system. It can be impossible for a gambler with an addiction to feel normal without gaming since the link between gambling and feeling good is so strong. Your loved one is showing indicators of having a gambling issue if you’ve discovered them concealing debt, lying about their location, or openly denial of gambling.

Some people’s gambling addiction is accompanied by a drug abuse issue. Alcohol abuse is very widespread among obsessive gamblers. A recent paper in The Journal of Gambling Studies notes that there are similar personality traits present in individuals who suffer from alcoholism and gambling addiction, supporting the idea that a person prone to one may fall victim to the other.

Due to the fact that many gamblers consume alcohol while betting, this disease may develop as a natural result of gambling. Others might turn to drugs or alcohol to mask feelings of guilt, humiliation, or embarrassment. These people need to deal with both their substance abuse issues and their gambling addiction in order to heal fully.

There is hope. People who resolve to give up gambling and enter treatment can fully recover. This includes leading a fulfilling life that makes it possible to have pleasure without gambling.

Compulsive Gambling vs. Non-Compulsive Gambling

Because compulsive gambling can initially resemble regular gambling, it can be challenging to recognize it. There are several differences you may watch out for if you’re attempting to determine whether someone you care about needs assistance stopping gambling.

There are probably many healthy people having a good time if you stroll through any casino or drop by a typical poker party. However, there are other bettors who are enmeshed and trapped in an addictive loop.

Signs that a person has a healthy handle on their gambling habits are:

  • Knowing their limitations — Non-compulsive gamblers know when to say no, whether they’re in Vegas or at a friend’s house for poker night. They recognize that there is a losing side to every wager and have a good appreciation for the risk involved in gambling. They understand there are no guarantees in life, and they are aware they could lose all of the money they had invested. They view gambling as purely amusing. They only bet up to a certain amount, and when they hit it, they stop.
  • Refusal to take on excessive risk – Non-compulsive gamblers never wager amounts that endanger their reputation, family, or financial stability. By pushing over set boundaries and striving to “gain it all back,” they are not interested in limiting losses. If they gamble excessively, they don’t do it again. Gamblers who are not compulsive can stop playing at any time without getting tense or angry. They are aware that the most valuable things in life are reputation and relationships, and excessive gambling harms both.
  • Lack of compulsion to gamble – Non-compulsive gamblers don’t mind when gambling isn’t an option. Sometimes, but not always, gambling can be entertaining. They won’t experience a strong want to start gambling again right away if they stop at any moment. They don’t gamble, but they nonetheless feel content with their lives.
  • Ability to easily decline gambling invitations — Whether it’s a drunken weekend in Atlantic City or playing cards on Friday night, non-compulsive gamblers can readily decline gambling invitations. They may decline if they don’t have the funds to gamble, have other commitments, or simply don’t feel like going. It doesn’t matter; they are free to decline.
  • Lack of need for gambling to have fun — One issue with addicts is that their brains become hardwired to favor gambling over all other activities. Non-compulsive gamblers are aware that they have a variety of possibilities. One of them is gambling.

On the other hand, signs of a potential gambling compulsion can be:

  • Disregard for predetermined limitations – If your loved one frequently loses more money after promising to stick to a low limit, that is a problem behavior. People with gambling addictions are unable to control their want to gamble more. Since it takes more risk to achieve the same high, their gambling may escalate over time. A clear sign of a compulsive gambling problem is when a loved one lies, denies, or covers gaming losses.
  • Propensity to taking excessive, risky chances – Problem gamblers frequently take more risks than they can afford to lose. Any risk-taking activity, such as playing the stock market or placing a bet on the cards, might result in this behavior. They could strive to recover losses in an effort to hide their escalating addiction. Even when others beg them to stop betting, they don’t listen.
  • An irresistible urge to gamble – Your loved one may exhibit symptoms of gambling addiction, such as talking about it more often, organizing trips to casinos, or spending more time online betting. When your loved one isn’t gambling, they could feel agitated or nervous, but they might also be anticipating the next chance to gamble.
  • Inability to turn down opportunities or invitations to gamble — Your loved one is unable to refuse the urge to gamble. He or she might skip crucial family gatherings, disappear from work, or neglect other responsibilities because a gambling chance came up. Your loved one turns away from the hobbies they once loved in favor of gambling. He or she might begin playing cards before moving on to wagering on sporting events, horses, or other games of chance. The only thing that matters is gambling.
  • Discontent at all other times when not gambling – As addiction sets up, the negative behavior takes control of the brain. Only gambling can make problem gamblers feel content and at ease. They become agitated and anxious when they are unable to gamble or when they lack the necessary funds.

The Symptoms of Pathological Gambling and Problem Gambling

There are two types of gambling disorders: pathological gambling and problem gambling, though addiction specialists occasionally disagree on how they differ from one another. Gamblers who have a problem can hurt themselves or other people out of their addiction.

Treatment may be necessary for problem gambling. If the behavior persists and the symptoms are not treated, it could also develop into pathological gambling. It’s crucial to remember that problem gambling doesn’t have to occur every day or every week. Gambling is a problem if it leads to issues; it doesn’t matter where, when, or how frequently it happens.

Pathological gamblers exhibit a number of additional symptoms in addition to harming themselves or others. Pathological gamblers could act as though they can never lose or show overconfidence. They can insist that all of their problems would be solved by having more money. They might have unusually strong superstitions.

Additionally, pathological gamblers may possess competitive or extraordinarily vivacious personalities. You might also observe tendencies akin to a workaholic or waiting until the very last minute to execute intensely. Additionally, pathological gamblers frequently exhibit restlessness, boredom, and lavish or maniacal giving.

Clinicians look at 10 key characteristics to confirm a diagnosis of compulsive gambling or problem gambling. Professionals may dispute the distinctions between pathological and problem gambling, but in general, problem gamblers exhibit up to five of the following symptoms of gambling addiction. More than five indications are considered indicative of pathological gambling or addiction to gambling.

Clinical warning signs of compulsive gambling include:

  • Preoccupation – People who have gambling issues struggle to focus on anything besides gaming. They could struggle to finish jobs because it’s difficult to resist thinking about past gambling experiences, fantasies, or prospective activities.
  • Tolerance – Just as someone who struggles with alcoholism needs to consume more and more to experience the same sensation, compulsive gamblers need to place larger and riskier bets. Gamblers’ tolerance quickly increases, and the only way they can feel high is by taking on more risk than they should.
  • Withdrawal – People who have a pathological gambling issue experience anxiety, boredom, and irritability when they are unable to gamble. They might forego other pursuits in favor of gambling.
  • Escape – Problem gambling occurs when a person turns to gamble as an escape from their difficulties or as a means of cheering themselves up. The person utilizes gambling as a coping mechanism for pressing issues or depressive sentiments.
  • Chasing – It’s likely that someone with an addiction to gambling will experience wager loss. The person places more bets in an effort to win back money in order to conceal growing losses.
  • Lying – When people know they shouldn’t gamble, they may feel frightened or ashamed about how much they are betting. They lie, conceal, or deny gambling to loved ones instead of telling them the truth.
  • Loss of control – They are aware, deep down, that they are having trouble. They grow weary of losing money and develop gambling compulsions. They make an effort to stop, but the first few days are so uncomfortable that they resume their gaming. Addiction’s main trait is relapse.
  • Committing Crimes – Breaking the law to obtain money or items to gamble is one of the most severe symptoms of gambling addiction. It’s time to seek assistance if your loved one steals or commits other crimes.
  • Jeopardizes personal relationships — It’s time to intervene if your loved one keeps gambling despite the fact that it jeopardizes his or her most crucial personal or professional relationships. For example, requests to halt gambling that are disregarded.
  • Bailout – Over time, your loved one can lose so much money gambling that he or she needs financial assistance.

Comorbid Disorders: Gambling Addiction, Depression and Substance Abuse

Although everyone can acquire a gambling problem, some groups are more likely to engage in compulsive gambling than others. Depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol are two mental health conditions that frequently coexist with compulsive gambling. Your loved one is more likely to need treatment for a comorbid disorder the more severe their gambling problem is. Signs that indicate comorbidity are:

  • Depression or anxiety – Insomnia or excessive sleeping, issues with food, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and mood changes are common condition symptoms. These symptoms can accompany substance usage as well as stem from it.
  • Schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder – These are rare mental illnesses that are nevertheless more likely to co-occur in people who have gambling addictions.
  • Substance Abuse – Alcoholism is very common substance abuse among people with gambling addiction. Common addicted behaviors include drinking more frequently and more expensively when gambling, drinking at odd hours or in odd places and avoiding social gatherings where alcohol will not be supplied. Additionally, you’ll see that your loved one needs to consume increasingly more alcohol to have the same benefits. Both drug and alcohol addiction can be treated.

The Importance of Treatment for Gambling Addiction

Regardless of how severe your loved one’s gambling issue is, assistance is available. Many people who had severe gambling and/or substance addiction issues sought therapy and now lead happy and sober lives.

Although self-help support groups like Gamblers Anonymous assist many people in maintaining sobriety, other people find that behavioral therapy is the most successful form of treatment. To understand the root of your loved one’s gambling urge, consider behavioral counseling. Additionally, it can assist your loved one in recognizing uncomfortable emotions and emotional triggers and securely addressing them.

Psychotherapy or non-addictive medications may be helpful if your loved one has a problem with substance misuse or a mental health illness. Rehabilitation therapies for gambling addiction, substance misuse, and disorders like depression and anxiety can be obtained through holistic inpatient treatment centers that are certified to treat patients with two diagnoses.

The program you select can also include recreational activities and family counseling to assist your loved one in leading a fuller life. These programs frequently involve aftercare to aid patients in maintaining sobriety after inpatient treatment is finished.

This is where we come in! At Addiction Experts, our team of professionals is standing by to help you take the steps needed to regain control of your life and break free from the struggle of gambling addiction. Contact us today to speak with one of our compassionate and expert staff!

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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